Australian cops thrown out of Vanuatu

2012-05-10 10:00

Sydney - A dozen Australian federal police officers were expelled from the Pacific nation of Vanuatu on Thursday in a diplomatic row over the arrest of the prime minister's private secretary.

Australia's foreign office said it was "disappointed and concerned" at what it called "retaliation" for the detention of Clarence Marae at Sydney airport on 27 April.

Marae was held while travelling with Vanuatu's prime minister Sato Kilman, en route to Israel for a state visit, and was charged with conspiracy to defraud.

Reports said the arrest was linked to an alleged international tax scam.

The Vanuatu government on Wednesday gave Australian police stationed in the capital Port Vila 24 hours to shut their office or face arrest, and a foreign affairs spokesperson said all 12 had now left.

"We regret that it was necessary to make the arrest during Prime Minister Kilman's transit," he said.

"All possible measures were taken to ensure it was carried out in a way that was respectful of Prime Minister Kilman's position and the need to protect his dignity."

Speaking ahead of the police leaving, Foreign Minister Bob Carr warned Vanuatu that throwing them out would cause "self-inflicted damage".

"We are spending Aus$97m training police officers across the Pacific, it is very, very valuable aid," he said.

Very strong co-operation

"If Vanuatu has a grievance with a law enforcement issue at Sydney airport then I'd be happy to facilitate ways for them to express that grievance to save them from any self-inflicted damage from expelling our police personnel."

According to the Vanuatu Daily Post Kilman was fuming at the arrest, calling it "kidnap and breach of diplomatic protocol", as well as his treatment after having to fill out immigration documents in Sydney despite being in transit.

"There is a very strong co-operation between Australia and Vanuatu but unfortunately what happened at Sydney airport is not a sign of the existing cooperation between Australia and Vanuatu," he said.

"And if Australia says she is one of the countries in the Pacific but does this to smaller nations in the Pacific then it infringed on the sovereignty of the country."

The row comes a year after an Australian lawyer was expelled from Vanuatu over allegations of spying.

Ari Jenshel, who worked as a senior adviser in the office of Vanuatu's Attorney-General, allegedly copied sensitive government documents and sent them to Canberra.